Friday, October 21, 2005

Strong Women on the Road

Novelists Judith Ryan Hendricks (THE BAKER'S APPRENTICE, Wm. Morrow), Daniela Kuper (HUNGER AND THIRST, St. Martin's) and Masha Hamilton (THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US, Unbridled Books) have joined forces to do a traveling road show, "Strong Women Characters: In Fiction. In Person." They're currently touring Colorado and New Mexico, organized by publicist extraordinaire Caitlin Hamilton Summie. (See press release and tour schedule.)

Hendricks sends this dispatch from the front lines:

Strong Women Tour - Part One
Our hotel room looks like a sorority house on Sunday morning. There are shoes—Masha’s cross trainers, Daniela’s black loafers, my cowboy boots. Sweaters and dresses draped over chairs, cosmetics and vitamins litter the bathroom vanity, damp towels on the floor.

We all tell each other, “I really don’t live like this—normally.”

But I think we’ve all been wanting to. Live like this, I mean. We are a sorority. The three laptops plugged into various outlets tell the tale—a sorority of writers. Three midlife women—a war journalist, a bread baker and an advertising CEO who made abrupt exits off the smooth blacktop of known careers onto the potholed gravel road of fiction writing.

It’s not an unknown story. A lot of writers have come from other places. What makes this group startling is the way we have banded and bonded together for this trip…The Strong Women in Fiction Tour, our publicist calls it, for lack of a better description. The irony for me is that on my solo book tour just prior to this, I felt anything but strong. There were too many long drives through rain and traffic that moved by inches to speak to groups of three and four readers, sign some stock and then drive back to my parents’ house in yet more rain and traffic. Alone.

By the time I got to Lizzie’s house in Denver I felt exhausted and beaten, in a way I’ve rarely felt. Elizabeth Eads is an old friend of Daniela’s and she has insisted we stay with her for the Denver leg of our tour. Her house, with its warm wooden floors, comfortable furniture and folk art, is the kind of place that you pull up around you like a blanket rather than walk into. As is Lizzie herself—a tall, lanky beauty with curly hair that I would kill for, a contagious laugh, and a penchant for saying “Oh, shut up,” in an Arkansas twangy voice whenever we try to thank her for anything.

I immediately relaxed in her presence, like butter coming to room temperature. But then Daniela arrived, loaded down with groceries and wine, and Masha, straight off the plane from New York, and Lizzie was roasting chickens, steaming wild rice and the rest of us were cleaning tiny crisp asparagus and washing red leaf lettuce and setting the table. We talked as if we were cousins who hadn’t seen each other in years, not strangers who had only been together once before for a few hours on a panel in Tempe, AZ. That is to say, all we had to do was catch up. We had no need to explain ourselves to each other, tell where we were coming from. Somehow we knew.

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